The New Mexico we dream about
Editor & Associate Publisher

In his review of our 2004 residential design competition, held in collaboration with the Albuquerque chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Elmo Baca notes that modernist architecture skipped New Mexico. Instead, Santa Fe style, with its branches of Pueblo Revival and Territorial Revival styles, grabbed the popular imagination here and hasn’t let go for a good 80 years.

Yet I wonder how often a local pueblo resident looks at a newly constructed frame/stucco house and thinks, “that doesn’t look anything like my place.” If you ever make the trip out to Sandia Pueblo, or Jemez, or Taos, you will probably find only a few obvious similarities to our suburban homes: brown stucco, protruding roof vigas, outdoor ovens. But the small home blocks—sometimes picturesquely stacked as at Taos Pueblo—the improvised designs, the spontaneous use of whatever materials fell to hand define more of an ethos than a rigid style. You probably won’t see brick floors, “kiva” fireplaces, rope-carved wooden posts, granite kitchen counters, or red tile roofs.

Still, the anglicized versions developed by architects and designers in the early 20th century enunciated a design vocabulary that remains extremely popular today, through every variation from enthusiastic emulation to slavish repetition to experimental exploration. But the cornerstone styles of Pueblo and Territorial revivals continue to define the uniquely New Mexican expression of Southwestern style because they trigger powerful emotional associations. They invoke a gentle, unhurried, imaginary time of detours down burro alleys and quiet conversations in shady courtyards. In a sense, it’s the New Mexico we all dream we live in.

 

Photo © Jack Parsons

Despite the marketeering roots of the style, it stayed around long enough to establish a comforting continuity with the past that still helps maintain regional identity. The founders of Santa Fe style succeeded on a larger scale than they intended, since the look goes far beyond homes in the capital. Other styles may come and go, but if they lack an organic connection to the place, they’ll never stick as defining emblems of New Mexico.

The houses selected for awards by our AIA competition jury represent significant new directions in placed-based architecture, without relying on the sentimentality that nips the heels of boredom with the same ol’, same ol’. The best of the new breed, and perhaps the ones that will gain traction in popular taste, incorporate the lessons of the past, the opportunities of new ideas and new materials, and authentic reactions to and interpretations of the landscape, the culture, and the mood of the times.